Mary anoints Jesus (John 12.1-11)

The lead-in to the death and resurrection of Jesus is hotting up. Mary’s anointing of Jesus leads to Judas, one of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples, objecting to the apparent waste of the precious perfume. So John prepares his readers for Judas’ final betrayal of Jesus. What a heart-breaking grief this must have been to Jesus who loved his disciples so deeply! And still today Jesus must be weeping when Christians lose their love and faith in him.
These verses end with the contrast of faith and murderous opposition. Wonderfully we read that “many of the Jews were going over to him and putting their faith in him”, but at the same time the chief priests made plots to kill Jesus and also Lazareth (12.9-11).

In 12.3 the original Greek states that Mary ‘anointed Jesus’ feet’. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this verb ‘anoint’ is used several times for ritual anointing in the Temple sacrifices, although it is not the common word used for such anointing. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet with precious perfume is a clear sign of his impending sacrificial death and burial. And Jesus realised the significance, so he states that the perfume was saved “for the day of my burial” (12.7). What emotions must have torn Jesus’ heart in two! On the one hand he faces the grim reality of Judas’ betrayal and his own impending suffering and death. On the other hand he must have been so happy to see the sacrificial love of Mary in pouring out her hugely expensive nard perfume and wiping even his feet (the despised, dirty part of the body) with her hair. Do we also see such contrasts in our church today? Faith and love walk together with rejection of Jesus.
The other gospels give us some additional insights. In Luke’s Gospel the story of the anointing of Jesus’ feet (Luke 7.36ff.) is used to demonstrate the depth of love when a sinner is forgiven. The greater one’s sin, the more one will love Jesus with eternal gratitude when cleansed from one’s sin. The forgiven sinner can indeed “go in peace” (Luke 7.50) – how glorious this is!
In Matthew’s Gospel all Jesus’ disciples (not just Judas) join together to question the apparent waste of the enormously expensive ointment. But as his disciples we are called to share in his death and burial. So Mary’s extravagant love was welcomed by our Lord.
Matthew and Mark join John in emphasizing that Jesus’ anointing foreshadows his coming death and burial. It is noteworthy that the very Jewish Matthew also strongly emphasizes the Gentiles. Whereas John does not mention it at all, in Matthew and Mark the climax of the story comes with Jesus’ words that “wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matthew 26.13). So Mark also foresees Jesus’ burial and concludes his account of the event with the same words that the story of the woman’s great love would be told throughout the coming history and wherever the gospel is preached (Mark 14.9).
The central reality of the gospel of Jesus is that people of every nation should come to love him with all that we have and are. Jesus evidently was aware that his death and resurrection would lead to the good news being preached to all people everywhere, Jew and Gentile. So our love for Jesus should involve sacrificial giving in love and a concern for mission to all peoples everywhere.
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